Salmon fishing on the River Beauly, Scotland
He was dressed
by Hardy's of Alnwick but it could have been Hardy
Amies. Teeth clamped around the remains of a Davidoff,
standing waist-deep in clear running water, the
fisherman eased back his rod and cast the fly.
He cast with all
the assurance of someone who had four salmon on
the bank in the time it took to smoke his cigar.
They looked like bars of silver-made-flesh, only
silver is probably cheaper.
Fishing the Lower
Falls beat of the River Beauly in Inverness-shire
in July is a heartening experience at a time when
estuary netting, drift netting at sea, disease
and seals have contributed to a decline in the
Scottish salmon. On the Lower Falls beat the fish
are there in large numbers, and they are being
There is a price
to pay, however: £70,000 for the right to
use one rod in perpetuity for a single July week.
Stalking potential buyers can be a sport in itself.
Further along the bank, a visiting American had
rented a rod with a view to buying if his week
Clad in black
waders, deer-stalker hat and pale cream waistcoat,
he looked part-frogman, part-fisherman. He had
flown over on Concorde, lured by the mystique
of the Scottish salmon. But would he take the
bait? He had caught one fish in three days.
Others were catching
bagfuls. Eighteen had been taken on the Tuesday
and 75 the previous week, the famous Ferry Pool
living up to its reputation. Yet one woman was
still inclined to grumble. She had not caught
anything that morning.
'I can't understand
the attitude of some fishers', said William Midwood,
managing director of River Beauly Fishings which
owns the beats. Midwood is fishing -mad, comes
from a landed background and manages to blend
his passion for the salmon and its welfare with
the realities of running a salmon river for profit.
The Upper, Middle
and Lower Beauly beats were bought from The Hon
Simon Fraser, Master of Lovat and son of Lord
Lovat, whose family had owned the fishings for
centuries, in 1990. The new owners adopted the
fashionable late-1980s trend of parcelling-up
river beats and selling them in 'rod-weeks'. The
stigma of Spanish holiday disasters has led most
of the fishing companies to describe their time-share
arrangements as syndication, but it amounts to
the same thing.
The price that
fisheries charge depends on the average catches.
The £70,000 asking price for the Lower Beauly
beat, for example, was based on an average of
seven fish a week at that time of year, or £10,000
per fish. Asking prices are lower at other times
of the year when fish are scarcer.
Because some people
catch more than others, and because salmon do
not always oblige by swimming up the river at
the appointed time, the wisest syndicate managers
are investing in the future.
The managers of
Beauly Fishings have taken something of a designer-river
approach, creating lies for fish where none existed.
If the water is too low it is raised by the creation
of a weir. If the salmon need rocks for a resting
lie, they get them. If the fisherman needs a light
for his cigar there is a gillie on hand ready
Instead of leaving
all the returning salmon to their own devices,
the gillies spend the winter seeding the feeder
burns with fry, hatched from salmon, stripped
of their eggs and milt.
The fry are ladled
from buckets, one into every square meter of water.
'They soon establish their own territories and
do not bunch up in shoals, which is what happens
if they are all thrown in together. This way,
I believe, they have a much better chance of survival',
programme is concentrating on breeding spring
fish, in the belief that their fry will also return
in the springtime. The Beauly has an extensive
feeder system, spoiled partly by the hydro dams
which have dried up some of the headwaters.
Midwood is conscious
that the company owns 12 miles of the river and
not every part fishes as well as the Lower Beat.
While Lower Beauly was teeming with fish, only
300 had made their way up the two dams, via twice-daily
lifts, to the Upper Beauly where I was fishing
. Still, the fish were there, if not so easy to
My salmon fishing
experience is basic. Most of it has been spent
not catching fish on the River Tay in the spring.
The three days spent not catching fish on the
Beauly differed only in that I was not catching
them with the fly as opposed to not catching them
with the spinner or the shrimp.
Just once in those
three days a fish rose to the fly, but I managed
to snatch it out of its mouth just in time. The
gillie groaned, the man from Trout and Salmon
magazine groaned also and Midwood groaned too,
but I was happy. It has taken many years of thrashing
salmon waters to perfect this ability to avoid
catching salmon. A long time ago I caught a 23lb
fish. It was my first, a big one, and I have not
since seen its like.